Lecture in CEU

Yesterday Margarita Zavadskaya gave a lecture “Variety of Local Governance in Russia: Do Autocracies Serve People’s Interests?” at the Central European University, Budapest Campus, Hungary. During the lecture, Margarita presented and discussed her co-authored with Lev Shilov article.

Does good governance exist under autocracy and to what extent public goods provision depends on budget autonomy and political loyalty? Local heads in Russia are caught between citizens and governors that hold them accountable. We aim to explore the heterogeneity of local governance in Russian municipalities (municipal and urban districts) by constructing weighted index of public goods provision and estimating the effects of budget autonomy and vote delivery for the United Russia in 2016-17. Our findings suggest that coercive vote mobilization harm public goods provision in municipalities of relatively small size.

More information on the event can be found here.

The game is afoot

On the 5th of February, we had our first project meeting, where the plan for the next three years was drafted. Our project is quite ambitious and its realisation requires fieldwork, participation in notable conferences, workshop organisation, extensive data collection, and many other important activities. The schedule is busy and therefore very exciting.

In this blog, we will be telling more about what we are doing for our project realisation in the coming months. In the meantime, we are working on the theoretical framework of ElMaRB already since January, and hope to present it in a few months. Stay tuned!

It’s hard to be a mayor

Riddle published a new piece by Margarita Zavadskaya titled “It’s hard to be a mayor”. In the text, Dr. Zavadskaya discusses constraints that Russian laws and regimes put on mayors’ governance in Russia, also from the point of elections.

However, adjustments must be made for the dominant form of political regime, which in Russia’s case can be termed a consolidated electoral autocracy. It is known that in such circumstances governors are forced to a certain extent to provide the requisite share of votes and increased turnout in federal elections. As municipal heads are de facto accountable to regional administrations for everything from the efficient use of funds, they also have a role to play in these electoral processes. Municipalities in Russia’s political conditions can therefore be considered an extension of the vertical of power. If this is so, then the survival of leaders at the most local level of government may also depend on election results and their success in ensuring the political loyalty of the population.

So how does political mobilisation affect local governance? Does it affect it at all? Two possible answers suggest themselves. The first is that the assistance which municipalities feasibly provide in ensuring turnout, votes, or both results in additional bonuses, access to financing and other programmes which in turn increase the budget available to local heads, giving them more room for manoeuvre. Essentially, political loyalty and budgetary autonomy are mutually reinforcing. The second answer is more pessimistic: if municipalities need to take extra efforts to ensure turnout and votes, they can potentially distract their staff, and divert their resources, away from solving pressing problems, thereby distorting the system of managerial priorities.

The work can be read both in English and in Russian.

With not great elections comes not great governance

PONARS Eurasia published a new policy memo “Explaining Bad Governance in Russia: Institutions and Incentives”, written by Professor Vladimir Gel’man and Margarita Zavadskaya.

What are the sources and mechanisms of governance in Russia? Is bad governance doomed to persist endlessly under authoritarian rule, or can the quality of governance be improved over time by certain policies? Recent discussions attempting to explain good and bad governance in various countries, regions, and policy areas have been quite extensive. How can we place present-day Russia onto this global governance map? And should we consider Russia as an outlier or, rather, as a laggard vis-à-vis many other developed states? We argue here that the Russian political regime provides insufficient incentives for good governance, and that attempts to improve the quality of governance without democratization will not ultimately prove fruitful.

Zavadskaya and Gel’man see one of the reasons for lack of sufficient incentives for good governance in the electoral nature of Russian authoritarianism, which, they say, is heavily dependent on political performance of the “power vertical”, rather than economic one:

The performance of regional and municipal authorities is judged by election results, not by socio-economic achievements. Furthermore, state enterprises and organizations perform functions of workplace electoral mobilization for the sake of the Kremlin and its sub-national agents. The mechanism of accountability within the “power vertical,” based upon prioritization of such political indicators as “degree of popular trust in the president” in a given region, is institutionalized. In other words, the delivery of votes can become a more important task for Russian local governments than the delivery of local public goods. Placing political loyalty above professional efficiency serves as the Achilles heel for a number of authoritarian regimes, and Russia is by no means an exception.

The authors discuss the solutions that Russian authorities offer to change this trend and get rid of bad governance. However, decentralization, deregulation, and digitalization cannot possibly solve the problem without initial democratization – an option that Russian top leaders seem not to consider:

The 4D solution, which goes beyond recipes of deregulation, digitalization, and decentralization and puts democratization as the number one item on the agenda of advancing good governance, remains beyond the current menu of Russia’s authoritarianism. This is why all other recipes for countering bad governance in the country may be considered at best partial and temporary solutions. Yet as the recent experience of Ukraine suggests, even the democratization of Russia’s political regime as such could not guarantee the diminishment of bad governance within the country. Nonetheless, without major political changes, there is no way to improve the quality of governance. Without these changes, Russia most likely will be doomed to muddling through numerous pathologies of bad governance while preserving certain “pockets of efficiency” in strategically-important priority sectors and policy fields, selectively picking up good apples fallen from the bad trees of ineffectiveness and un-rule of law. The question is to what extent these pathologies of bad governance could turn into chronic diseases, not curable under any treatment, and whether or not the “vicious circle” of bad governance in Russia may be broken in the foreseeable future.

Full version of the policy memo can be read online.